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L.A.'s Babies Fare 'Pretty Well' in Study

Report: Compared with infants in other U.S. cities, fewer children are born here to dropout mothers, and prenatal care is up, researchers find.

February 20, 2001|MARLENE CIMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — By the end of the 1990s, Los Angeles showed significant declines in the number of babies born to high-school dropouts, and among mothers who lacked prenatal care, according to a report released Monday.

Also, Los Angeles' children "got off to a healthier start" overall when compared with the nation's 50 largest cities, says the study, conducted by the Washington research firm Child Trends and "Kids Count," a Baltimore project that produces an annual survey of child well-being.

"Los Angeles is actually doing pretty well, compared to all the other cities," said Richard Wertheimer, one of the report's authors.

The report rated the well-being of the country's newborns by looking at seven key indicators of infant health and care. The study's authors tracked the findings from 1990 to 1998, measuring how individual cities fared during those years and comparing each with the nation's 50 largest cities, as well as with the rest of the country. The study provided no explanations for its findings.

Overall, it found that in the late 1990s, pregnant women were more likely to have seen a doctor and less likely to have smoked than at the beginning of the decade. But babies were more likely to be born premature, underweight and to unmarried parents, the report says.

In 1990, "things were so bad, it was easy to improve," said William P. O'Hare, another of the report's authors. "But I don't think that's the whole story."

The changes may be due to a combination of factors, including "the affluence of the last eight years, and possibly the element of welfare reform," he said, stressing that this is speculative.

Despite the improvements, the study emphasizes that children born in large cities still fared much worse than those born in nonurban areas, and it says that the "contrast compels us to direct our attention and resources to the inner-city neighborhoods that have less to offer children."

One of the most notable signs of progress nationwide was a drop in the percentage of pregnant women who reported smoking during pregnancy--from 18% in 1990 to 13% in 1998. Smoking during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight and infant mortality.

Los Angeles experienced a marked drop in the percentage of births to mothers who received late or no prenatal care--from 7.4% in 1990 to 3.1% in 1998--and in births to women with less than 12 years of education, from 50.4% in 1990 to 45.3% in 1998.

The latter drop was quite substantial, compared with the decline among the 50 cities as a whole, which fell from 28.9% to just 27.4%. And although there was greater improvement in Los Angeles, its proportion of uneducated mothers remained substantially above the 50-city average.

Los Angeles, in fact, "was dead last among cities," O'Hare said. "On that measure, in 1998, they are the highest in the nation."

The yearly number of births in Los Angeles fell from 90,592 in 1990 to 65,846 in 1998, the report says, a decline that was evident among all racial and ethnic groups. And although the majority of babies were born to Latina mothers throughout the period, their proportion increased--from 62% in 1990 to 67% in 1998.

The report also found that in Los Angeles:

* The proportion of babies born to teen mothers--which ranged from 12% to 14%--was lower than in the 50 largest cities as a whole, where the rate was 15%.

* As in the other cities, there was a reduction in the percentage of teen mothers having their second or later child. In addition, the rate in Los Angeles--21.5% in 1998--was lower than the 50-city average of 23.7%.

* Births among unmarried women dropped from 45.3% in 1990 to 40.1% in 1998, in contrast to an increase in the 50-city average. That figure increased from 40.8% to 43.3%.

* The proportion of low birth-weight babies increased slightly, from 6.5% in 1990 to 6.8% in 1998. This increase mirrored the trend in the nation's 50 largest cities, where the average was 8.8% in 1998.

* The percentage of preterm births remained around 11% throughout the period; the 50-city average was 12.7%.

Statistics on smoking during pregnancy were not available for California births.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

U.S. Rankings

The percentage of total births to unmarried women in 1998, according to a new analysis. They are listed according to ranking:

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State/District Percent Utah 17.1 Idaho 22.0 N.H. 24.1 Colo. 25.6 Minn. 25.6 Mass. 26.1 Neb. 26.2 N.D. 27.0 Iowa 27.2 Kan. 27.8 Wash. 27.9 Vt. 28.0 N.J. 28.3 Wis. 28.5 Wyo. 29.6 Ore. 29.7 Va. 29.8 Mont. 29.9 Ky. 30.1 Maine 30.6 Alaska 31.1 Conn. 31.2 Texas 31.5 Hawaii 31.5 S.D. 32.0 W.Va. 32.4 Calif. 32.8 N.C. 32.8 Penn. 32.8 Okla. 33.2 Ind. 33.5 R.I. 33.9 Mich. 33.9 Ohio 34.0 Mo. 34.1 Ala. 34.1 Ill. 34.1 Md. 34.4 Tenn. 34.9 N.Y. 34.9 Nev. 35.0 Ark. 35.0 Ga. 36.2 Fla. 36.6 Del. 37.1 Ariz. 38.4 S.C. 38.8 N.M. 44.0 La. 44.9 Miss. 45.4 D.C. 62.9 U.S. 32.8

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